When looking after our health, especially that of the heart, we need to fuel our body with essential nutrients – such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, – to remain fully nourished.
Not only does eating the right kind of foods and maintaining a healthy diet help keep you energised throughout the day, but it also has a lot of remedial benefits in the long run.
One of the essential nutrients our diet requires us to include is protein. Most commonly, the intake of protein is mistakenly associated with vigorous exercise. However, the fact is that protein is needed by each one of us because it is the building block of life — every cell in the body contains protein. Protein is important for the growth and development of the body and helps in the repair and maintenance of muscles.
To ensure we are choosing healthy sources of protein, we must consider the right kinds of protein to promote the best diet for heart health.
Protein can come from plant as well as animal sources. Some heart-healthy sources of protein to include in your diet are as follows:
- Legumes, Beans and Pulses
Legumes, beans and pulses are interchangeable terms. Legumes and beans are the fruits or seeds of a family of plants belonging to the Leguminous family and include chickpeas, kidney beans, soybeans, and black beans. Whereas when it is used as a dry seed, they are termed pulses and include lentils (known as “dal” in Indian households) and peas.
The legume family is a great choice for healthy sources of protein and includes many health benefits. It is also low in saturated fat and sodium, making it a favourable option for a wholesome, heart-healthy diet.
- Tofu and Soy
Tofu and soy are rich sources of plant protein and contain an additional dietary compound called isoflavones, which reduces LDL or “bad” cholesterol, which is known to cause heart disease and strokes.
Tofu is made from soybean curds, a type of legume, and is an excellent alternative for anyone looking at a vegan diet for heart health, that is rich in protein. Tofu lowers bad cholesterol which means it can protect the heart. Soy is a complete plant protein which means it is a high quantity and quality protein. It is also naturally free of cholesterol, low in saturated fats, and rich in omega-3 fats — all of which significantly decrease chances of heart problems. Soy products are easily available in the market like soya chunks, soya granules, etc.
- Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are good sources of protein. They are plant protein sources that can easily be incorporated into the diet. Nuts include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachios.
Fun fact – peanuts are actually legumes but they’re part of the nut family due to their similar characteristics. Peanuts in the form of peanut butter are a great source of protein that can be easily consumed daily.
Seeds include chia, flax, sesame, poppy, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds.
Both nuts and seeds not only provide protein but also have unsaturated fats that help regulate body weight when consumed with an energy-controlled diet and thus, protect the heart.
Nuts, isn’t it? So many benefits in such little powerhouses!
Though whole grains are commonly consumed for their carbohydrate and fibre content, they can also provide protein. Whole grains such as oats, brown rice, barley, and buckwheat can be included in the daily diet. Instead of refined grains, opt for whole grains as it is a healthier choice packed with nutritional benefits.
- Eggs, Skinless Poultry, Lean Ground Meats
Poultry is one of the most consumed animal sources of protein. Eggs are the gold standard for protein quality and are also rich sources of protein. They can be easily included in all meals. Additionally, skinless lean meat/chicken is also a high-quality protein with lower fat content for heart health. Even though red meat – either processed or unprocessed such as beef, pork or lamb contains protein, they are also high in saturated fats and can prove to be dangerous for the heart if not consumed in moderation. Hence, include eggs, chicken, and red meat in moderation to fulfil your protein needs.
- Low-Fat Dairy Products
While dairy products are an easy source of protein, they contain high amounts of saturated fats that in excess can be harmful to the heart. It’s not a lie when they say it’s not good to be “too cheesy”.
This is why it becomes all the more important to choose low-fat dairy options such as skim or low-fat milk, yoghurt, or cheese to get your protein needs met. These low-fat options cut down on saturated fats and therefore, make them a healthier choice for your heart.
- Seafood and Fish
Seafood is a great animal source of protein. Moreover, it is also lower in saturated fats and higher in healthy PUFAs. The omega-3 fatty acid is a PUFA which is considered to be an essential nutrient, however, it is not something our body can produce on its own. A core source of omega comes from fatty fish — such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines which have high levels of omega-3.
One of the major health benefits associated with omega is lowering the risk of disease. This is through several ways such as reducing blood clots, lowering inflammation, and blood pressure — all contributors to heart disease.
Now that we have a fair understanding of which types of protein to incorporate into a heart-healthy diet, it’s time we make more conscious choices about the ingredients we include in our diet. To create the best diet for heart health, you should also consider how you are cooking your food — the cooking oil you choose is equally important. A blended oil like Saffola Gold offers an ideal balance of good fats, MUFA and PUFA and helps you manage your cholesterol to give you an edge over regular cooking oil.
Not sure where to begin? Read how to start a heart-healthy diet here.